When Jim Pope grew up in central Wisconsin, everyone lived on a dairy farm.
“People back then didn’t live in the country and work in town,” he told fourth-grade students at Waupaca Learning Center. “There were no Internet and cellphones. When I was a boy growing up, very few had televisions.”
Pope remembers one particular neighbor who had more cows and thus more milk and as a result, more money than some of the other local farmers. They had a television.
“Once a month, they invited the neighbors over to watch. It was black and white and had only three channels,” he said.
Pope recently told Waupaca fourth-graders about what it was like to grow up on a farm in the 1950s as part of the Rural Heritage Reading Project.
The Rural Heritage Reading Project is a nonprofit association he started that has several objectives – preserving part of rural Wisconsin history, making that history accessible to children and helping them understand and appreciate that heritage.
The name “Jim Pope” is the pen name of Jim Nicewander.
He grew up on a farm near Waupaca that was about a couple of miles south of Lind Center. For 30 years, Pope was an administrator in the Stevens Point School District. He wrote Everyday Adventures of a Farm Boy in the 1950s at the urging of his daughters.
His daughters were about the age of the students he talks to today when he first began telling them stories about growing up on a farm.
Both of his daughters went on to college and became teachers.
They said to him, “You have to write some of those stories down.”
Knowing that he would retire in 2007, Pope started the project in 2000. He sketched a picture of how he remembered the farm and began organizing his thoughts.
“I did most of the writing in 2005,” he said.
He came up with 130 stories and then broke them down to a total of 90 stories. His plan is to have three books. Each book will have 30 chapters, or 30 stories in it.
“This is my second go-around in Waupaca,” he said after speaking to fourth-graders in Louise Dayton’s class and preparing to talk to Linda Easland’s class. “Waupaca was the first school I went to three years ago.”
Since then, Pope has visited other schools throughout the area, as well as bookstores and book fairs.
He calls his book and program his retirement project.
His book and program tie into part of the Wisconsin history portion of the fourth-grade social studies curriculum.
“The teachers have really liked it, and the kids have had a lot of fun, and hopefully, they’re learning something,” Pope said. “And, I’m having a blast.”
He teaches students about some of the area’s history, describing his book as “a history for kids.”
At most schools, including his visit to Waupaca, each student receives a free copy of the hardcover book, with Pope also signing them. His hope is that he encourages the students to enjoy reading.
During the past several years, Pope, who lives in Plover today, has talked to about 3,000 students. Many of those students tell him their favorite chapter is the one about the outhouse. But for Pope, his favorite chapter is the first one in the book. “Black Muck and Bloodsuckers.”
He said to the students, “When you write a book, you can put the chapters in any order you want.”
In addition to telling the students about outhouses and bloodsuckers, Pope spoke about party lines, writing letters and about collecting rocks and stamps.
Dayton, who grew up on a farm north of Waupaca, said Pope’s program was a good kickoff to their study of agriculture.
She also sees his talk as another way to remind her students about the importance of keeping a journal.
Pope, too, encouraged the students to write down their stories, whether in a notebook, journal or on a piece of paper.
He continues to write and is about halfway done with the second book. He hopes it is out in late 2012.
“In the second book, I’m old enough to go to school, so it’s more fun working on that one,” he said. “This is just a lot of fun.”